When the Bucs returned all-22 starters, the excitement grew as Tampa Bay became the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl again. Not only is Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul back, but he’s possibly better than ever. Pierre-Paul claims he is healthier than in years before.
The 31-year old pass rusher has gone through a myriad of injuries since coming to the Bucs and yet he’s still been highly productive. After suffering from a fractured vertebrae in his neck in 2019, Pierre-Paul worked his way back to still record 8.5 sacks in 10 games. While he played in all 16 games last season, he was beleaguered a bit by a season-long knee injury, and yet he still led the Bucs with 9.5 sacks.
The knee injury required surgery this offseason. Now that he’s all healed up and ready to go, Pierre-Paul says it’s the best he’s felt in years.
“The knee feels good. I think this is going to be one of my healthiest years ever,” Pierre-Paul said. “This is the healthiest I’ve felt. I feel like JPP from 2010.”
Feeling like he did as a first-round pick in 2010, Pierre-Paul is working on a couple of never before seen pass rushing moves this year. It’s an added element that he wasn’t able to work on a season ago with the injury.
“I’m excited – wait until you all see what I got in store,” Pierre-Paul said. “I got some extra moves that you ain’t even seen before. I’m just waiting to throw them out there.”
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Another big difference for him this year is that Pierre-Paul feels more confident know that he’s healthy. There were things that he didn’t feel comfortable doing last season because he had the injury, and it hurt his confidence as well. Again, even with not fully trusting himself, he still led the team in sacks.
“Just this year, I trust myself,” Pierre-Paul said. “It’s all about trusting yourself. I didn’t trust myself last year, I’ve been through a lot with my knee, but I trust it now, I’m healthy, and I’m ready to go. I’m pumped up, I’ve been going extra hard so I’m ready to go.”
The Bucs and Pierre-Paul now will turn their attention to the Dallas Cowboys for the season opener on Thursday. There are question marks about how quarterback Dak Prescott is going to look as he returns from a broken leg and shoulder strain, but it doesn’t change his approach to the game.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Pierre-Paul said. We’re just going to go out there and play great ball. No matter who the quarterback is this year, you already know everybody wants to give us their best shot, otherwise they’re playing themselves. We don’t care who is who, we’re just going to to out there and play some great ball as you all have seen last year. It’s a whole other team, but we’re the same team. We’re just going to give our best shot.”
Dallas also has some questions along the offensive line at tackle. But again it’s the same story to Pierre-Paul. It really doesn’t matter who lines up in front of him.
“To be honest, I don’t too much worry about no tackles,” Pierre-Paul said. I feel like if you put yourself in great situations to do things and you take care of yourself in the offseason, you got nothing to worry about.”